Editor’s Notes

All about Celeste

A mislabeled photo in the last issue provokes a torrent of responses from cinephile readers—and a blush of memory from an editor.

By Lydialyle Gibson

Editor's Notes
Celeste Holm as the earthy and earnest Karen in All About Eve.

The letters to the editor began arriving almost as soon as the May-June/10 issue reached readers' mailboxes—or, in some cases, their inboxes. Madonna Merritt was the first to write, e-mailing on May 14 to say, simply, "That's Greer Garson, not Celeste Holm." She was right: on the Magazine's back page, in the Lite of the Mind section, we had assembled a sampling of notable Chicago Xs, students who attended the University but never earned a degree. Actress and Oscar-winner Celeste Holm, X'34, was among them.

Unfortunately, the image we published, which we thought was a film still of Gregory Peck and Holm from 1947's Gentleman's Agreement, was in fact a photo of Peck and Greer Garson in 1945's Valley of Decision. The response was not only swift, but prodigious—within a month we received about 30 e-mails, five printed letters, and seven or eight phone calls. Some seemed amused. "This month's Lite of the Mind was quite possibly lighter than you meant!" wrote Sherry M. Weiss. Others were dismayed. "Does no one check anything anymore?" wondered an "appalled" David S. Gochman, AB'56, AB'57. "Get a refund from your incorrect photo source, and send an apology to Celeste Holm," instructed Charles Norcross, AB'49, MBA'52. Now 93, Holm lives in New York. (She didn't write in.)

Allen D. McCrady, PhB'47, suggested dryly to our writer that "when dealing with facts about old people, she gets an older person to proof her copy." While it's true that most of the Magazine's editors are a couple of generations removed from the 1940s, that is, alas, not an excuse I can use. I should have caught the mistake, not just because we should always catch mistakes, but because I grew up with 1940s and '50s movies. As an adolescent, I knew them better and cared about them more than I did most of the new films that came to our local theater. My earliest Hollywood crush was on Dana Andrews. He played a hard-edged, lovestruck police detective in Laura, one of the first noir films I encountered, but what really did me in was Andrews's quiet suffering and hapless decency as returning World War II veteran Fred Derry in The Best Years of Our Lives.

Back to our mislabeled photo. In 1948, Gentleman's Agreement won Holm a supporting-actress Oscar-Gregory Peck, as a journalist, goes undercover to expose American antisemitism—but the film I most remember Celeste Holm from is 1950's All About Eve. She played Karen Richards, a theater wife and the close friend of aging, acerbic star Margo Channing (Bette Davis, in a role that was made for her). The film's satire is withering, and Holm's character, earthy and earnest, is one of the few who doesn't speak mostly in daggers. She's open-hearted and appealingly normal next to the rest of the Broadway set, and when, late in the film, she realizes that trusting a young, ambitious, and pathologically dishonest actress may have cost her her husband, her despair is heartbreaking.

So, to Celeste Holm: we apologize. As Karen says in All About Eve, "Funny the things you remember—and the things you don't."



“Eastward Bound,” University of Chicago Magazine

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